I remember my introduction to makeup. I was in junior high, and my mother had a Mary Kay party, to which she politely included my sister and I. I remember one thing of this party, and I always will: how to apply eye shadow. Just the basics — a lid shadow, a highlight, a crease color. Apply liner (my middle school preference was raccoon liner) and mascara and voila! From girl to lady — albeit a dark one — I went.
This was the era of MySpace. I thought of it as explaining oneself on one complex sheet of digital paper. I was confused enough to believe, at 12 or 13 years old, that the self and spirit of a person could be understood via the information provided on that platform. My misguided self took all of my artistic energy and applied it toward the crowning jewel of social media — the selfie. I did not think myself beautiful, and in fact, from 2002-2011 I downright hated myself. But in my own portraits, I could create a little melodramatic me-centric universe where I could be understood. Maybe even appreciated! (I much later understand that I was loved and appreciated through even my darkest times.)
I’ll leave it to my psychiatrist to determine why I often only shot half of my face in these early portraits.
Some of these images are quite happy. My last high school band concert. Being accepted into art school for music. Playing guitar, faceless, on my parents’ front porch. A few photos of me fooling around on my new Macbook for college, hoping to capture my thin face and my eye for new experiences.
But as I look through my collection of photos on my laptop and on my cell phone, there is a complete gap of pictures of myself from my freshman through my fourth year of college. This gap says a lot — for one, I rid myself of social media entirely. At times, I thought taking selfies was completely vain. (It is. But there’s more to it than that.) But I also didn’t ever think I could take a picture that I’d like. For most of this time, I was battling bipolar disorder and PTSD undiagnosed and all alone. Add in the stress of music school, an abusive relationship, alcoholism, a few breakups, and adult acne, and you have the mess that was Martha for several long years.
Enter my brilliant psychiatrist and therapist. Enter endless medications and self-help books. Enter my service animal. Enter the acceptance of the love I couldn’t previously handle from my mother, my father, my sister, my boyfriend, and all of my wonderful friends in this world. (Honorable mention goes to my cats!) Enter my confidence machine — makeup.
So I’m taking this back to the beginning, back to Mary Kay, back to makeup.
After I made enough progress in treatment of my mental illness, I started to care for myself again. I started wearing foundation, seeing a dermatologist, and expressing myself with eyeshadows and lipsticks.
(channeling my inner Winona; look at me I knit a hat, playing trombone in a pit orchestra, being a red-lipped ice queen, a pre-Halloween party selfie)
And there was the one night of bipolar mania in which I decided to do a self-portrait titled “Androslut,” which one of my friends noted was “very Bowie.”
A picture says a thousand words. A selfie, I believe, says more.
Cheers to the confidence to take one, and thanks to my mother and Mary Kay for my first makeup lesson.